Domestic Homicide Review Taskforce minutes: March 2023

Minutes from the second meeting of the group on 30 March 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Anna Donald – Chair (Criminal Justice Division, SG)
  • Alice Nottage (Victim Support Scotland)
  • Ann Fehilly (ASSIST)
  • Ann Hayne (NHS Lanarkshire)
  • Carole Robinson (Criminal Justice Division, SG)
  • David Thomson, (Equality Unit, SG)
  • Deborah Demick (National Homicide Unit, COPFS)
  • Faith Curry (Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit, COPFS)
  • Fiona Wardell (Healthcare Improvement Scotland)
  • Giri Polubothu (Shakti Women’s Aid)
  • Iris Quar (Abused Men in Scotland (AMIS))
  • Jeff Gibbons (Criminal Justice Division, SG)
  • Karyn McCluskey (Community Justice Scotland)
  • Katie Brown (COSLA)
  • Lorraine Gillies (Scottish Community Safety Network)
  • Lucy MacDonald (SafeLifes)
  • Marsha Scott (Scottish Women’s Aid)
  • Michael Luff (Criminal Justice Division, SG)
  • Moira Price (Victims and Witnesses Policy Team, COPFS)
  • Vicky Carmichael (Criminal Justice Division, SG)


  • Claire Houghton (University of Edinburgh)
  • Emma Fletcher (NHS Tayside)
  • Fiona Drouet (EmilyTest)
  • James Rowlands (University of Sussex)
  • John McLaughlin (Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships, SG)
  • John Mulholland (Law Society of Scotland)
  • Julie Lusk (Directorate for Mental Health, SG)
  • Kate Wallace (Victim Support Scotland)
  • Laura Mahon (Alcohol Focus Scotland)
  • Lynne Taylor (Directorate for Mental Health, SG)
  • Joanna MacDonald (Office of the Chief Social Work Adviser, SG)
  • Michael Crook (Drugs Policy, SG)
  • Nel Whiting (Equalities, SG)
  • Sam Faulds (Police Scotland)
  • Tamsyn Wilson (Justice Analytical Services, SG)
  • Vivian Thomson (Children and Families, SG)

Items and actions

Welcome, introductions and apologies

Anna Donald (AD) welcomed members to the second meeting of the Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) Taskforce. She thanked members for taking the time to participate in the workshop that had been held in February 2023.

AD outlined to members that some of what would be discussed in terms of subject matter might be difficult and sensitive. Emphasising the importance of everyone’s wellbeing she invited members to take time out and look after themselves as required.       

Members were asked to introduce themselves in turn and apologies were noted.

AD provided a brief summary of the purpose of the taskforce for the benefit of new members, which included:

  • developing a Domestic Homicide Review model for Scotland as part of the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling violence against women and children
  • recognising the need for an inclusive approach: men can be victims of domestic homicide
  • taking a multi-agency approach to review the circumstances that led to a domestic homicide, from which we can learn lessons, identify where change is needed with a view to preventing further deaths
  • ensuring that a voice is given to those who have been killed and to their families

Ministerial changes

AD advised that the First Minister had appointed Angela Constance MSP as the  Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs and Siobhian Brown MSP was the Minister for Victims and Community Safety. Officials would be briefing Ministers on this work in due course.   

Minutes and actions

AD asked if members were content to approve the note of the first meeting (paper 1).  Going forward the minutes would be published on the Scottish Government website to ensure transparency.   

Marsha Scott (MS) commented that the minutes omitted her call for the taskforce to produce a model that could be tested within this calendar year. Vicky Carmichael (VC) confirmed that a high level timetable had been issued to taskforce members following the meeting: this recognised that work was at a very early stage. She added that the Scottish Government would work towards having a model to test by the end of the year and Jeff Gibbons (JG) clarified that this commitment was the result of the subsequent discussion that MS had alluded to. As such the note of the first meeting would not require amending and the note was approved.   

VC provided an update on the actions (paper 2) from the previous meeting:  

  • changes had been made to the terms of reference which included circulating a high level draft timeline. Given that this would be an iterative process the timeline would be re-visited and updated as the model progressed
  • rather than proceeding with phase 2 of the domestic and international comparator research the taskforce would instead look to develop the model and undertake research on specific aspects of the model as necessary
  • the workshop had been held on 20 February 2023: the report would be discussed under agenda item 4

Terms of reference 

VC spoke to the updated terms of reference (ToR) (paper 3) and highlighted the following key points:

  • wellbeing –a paragraph had been included to recognise the importance of members’ looking after their wellbeing. VC also highlighted that members should carefully consider the language used when discussing domestic violence as some members may have lived experience
  • media interest – members were asked to make the Secretariat aware if they were approached by the media about the work of the taskforce. To ensure transparency and provide information on the work of the Domestic Homicide Review Taskforce, a webpage was being developed which would hold key documents relating to the taskforce and members were encouraged to direct media to this when available
  • frequency of meetings – meetings would take place on a quarterly basis but that could be reviewed should members feel more frequent meetings were required 

The terms of reference would be reviewed and updated if required as work progressed.   

Comments from members included the following:

  • Ann Hayne (AH) suggested that the ToR should make it clear that this work covers “domestic abuse homicides”. There should be consistency by using the Scottish Government legal definition of domestic abuse. MS agreed that there should be clarity about the types of deaths the taskforce is concerned with. AD re-emphasised the need to reflect across the taskforce in terms of the scope of the review model and not wanting to make a decision at this stage around the term domestic abuse to ensure we are not excluding cases that we wouldn’t want to exclude if the purpose of the model is to learn lessons and prevent future deaths
  • AH also pointed out that it would be more accurate to refer to “data protection” rather than GDPR in relation to information governance compliance
  • MS suggested that the terms of reference should be more explicit about when members should make the secretariat aware of media interest given frequent approaches to Scottish Women’s Aid for comment on a range of domestic abuse matters. AD outlined that any references to the taskforce should be limited to material that was in the public domain which would appear shortly on the webpage that was being developed
  • Moira Price (MP) drew attention to the “purpose” section and suggested that clarity was needed to ensure that a DHR review was less about the actions of the individual who had died or the accused but about the interaction between service providers
  • John Devaney (JD) highlighted that it would be useful to include a section covering real or perceived conflict of interest in accordance with Nolan principles. JD pointed to his involvement in research projects and suggested that members should have a responsibility to declare any potential conflicts of interest at the start of each meeting on which they could be challenged by the group   

AD expressed her gratitude for the useful points made and undertook to make further revisions to the terms of reference.     

Domestic homicide review questionnaire findings and domestic homicide review workshop report

This agenda item was supported by papers 4 and 5.   

Questionnaire report

AD thanked members for completing the questionnaire which had had been issued shortly after the first meeting of the taskforce in December 2022. The questionnaire was designed to establish where there is common ground, differences and gaps in the knowledge/understanding of key elements of the DHR process. The questionnaire findings helped shape the workshop which was held in February 2023. AD recorded her thanks to Irma Arts from Justice Analytical Services, SG for her work on the questionnaire and her contribution towards establishing the wider evidence base.

Carole Robinson (CR) summarised the key findings from the Justice Analytical Services report. 13 taskforce members completed the questionnaire (45% of a total of 29 members).  

There was a divergence of views around the scope and purpose of a Scottish model. On scope there was strongest support for the inclusion of intimate partner violence although some members favoured a broader definition to include suicides or family homicide. On purpose most members included elements such as interagency learning, improved collaboration and the need to increase understanding of risks. Those findings were similar to the international comparison research undertaken by the Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Services.  

There was agreement on aspects of the review panel: an independent chair was favoured with preference for a permanent national panel. Practical suggestions were offered on how to involve agencies, families and how to report and monitor recommendations.             

Workshop report

AD thanked Fiona Wardell (FW) for hosting and facilitating the session. AD reflected that it had been beneficial to see so many members in person and the workshop had enabled us to gain a greater understanding of collective views on aspects of the DHR model.  

FW offered her reflections of the workshop which 26 taskforce members had attended.

  • the aim of the workshop had been to further explore members’ views on key aspects of the DHR model around purpose, scope and principles and to establish where there was consensus or gaps. This temperature check, which built on the questionnaire findings, was not about taking decisions: instead it was designed to support taskforce progress and stimulate discussion
  • the session provided an opportunity to unpick things that could seem quite binary.  It had been useful to explore what members’ meant when using certain words or phrases and whether this amounted to the same thing
  • the workshop provided a visual guide to individual views and that of the group  (with the use of different coloured post-it notes) especially in relation to the scope of a Scottish model
  • it was clear that taskforce members were passionate about taking a bold, brave approach


  • there had been a Slido poll which asked members what the principles of a Scottish model should be. Key words included person centred, trauma informed, transparent, inclusive and domestic abuse competent


  • there were two areas that members felt should be within scope: intimate partner (including ex-partner) and suicides. There was universal agreement that intimate partner/ex-partner should be included. Although a number of members thought suicides should be included some people felt that more information was needed and that suicides should be added at a later stage
  • there was a lack of consensus about including homicide-suicide, near death and children. Members suggested that these categories should be revisited at a later stage or when further evidence was identified. In relation to children some members felt that the child protection learning review process was a more appropriate mechanism to use
  • participants thought that bystander death and family homicide were out with the scope of the Scottish DHR model


  • for the purpose of the report FW had amalgamated comments from the facilitated discussions.  No interpretation had been given: this had been left for the taskforce to consider independently
  • the group discussions focused on 1) inter-agency collaboration, information sharing and learning and 2) improving knowledge and understanding of risks and circumstances around homicides.  A series of questions had been asked to identify what success would look like; what a DHR would be able to deliver and what would be required to support this       

Memorialisation of victims 

  • FW had used direct quotes from participants who had been asked to consider what memorialising victims meant and how this could be implemented as part of the DHR process.  

Gaps and other comments

  • two areas were identified as gaps: adolescent relationships and non-domestic violence cases. The group considered both to be out with the scope of a DHR model. Some of the “gaps” were the result of people questioning the language and definitions used
  • in the report FW had given a verbatim account of comments placed on the flip chart headed “car park” (to record items out with the scope of the discussion or which would potentially require greater development). There were various concerns about establishing clear definitions and language particularly in relation to near death, family homicide and homicide suicide); timescales and the need for inclusivity
  • FW had taken the same approach to recording views placed on the “head” (what people had learned), “heart” (what people had felt), and “carrier bag” (what people would take away) flip chart sheets.  

AD thanked FW for the helpful summary and added that the report captured the quality of the discussions on the day.   

An amendment was required to the workshop report on the final paragraph on page 10 referred to “bystander death” and should be changed to “family homicide”. 

Comments and questions from members included the following:                    

  • MS recorded her concerns that by being an in-person workshop this had excluded victim support organisations from out with the central belt and women with disabilities. MS highlighted the need to gather data to inform this work to ensure the taskforce heard from these particular groups amongst others. She added that Scottish Women’s Aid would be happy to help with an online discussion or survey
  • JD reflected that there could be a danger in defining the scope too tightly or too broadly. By covering current or recent intimate partner or ex-partner this would not capture women in other circumstances for instance if someone was killed by a stranger who was well-known to agencies because of their offending behaviour.  There was a question of whether the DHR process should consider the vulnerabilities of the victim or how systems manage those who present with gender based violence behaviour. Defining “intimate partner” could be difficult (would it cover dating history, for instance, or if we were looking to establish sexual history this would be problematic); there were issues around how to capture other family relationships and establishing the patterns across different deaths that were the result of male violence towards women
  • AD wondered whether there was a need for deep dives in relation to the available data to ensure understand such patterns. There was a danger we could miss valuable learning
  • AH was clear in her views that a DHR should be focused on murder predominantly  of women by men in a domestic relationship they may or not still be in. A DHR should be concerned with domestic abuse rather than straying into violence against women, femicide or family homicide. Widening the scope to include everything would dilute the impact of a DHR model. AH appreciated that resources and capacity would have to be considered in relation to any widening of the scope beyond partner/ex-partner
  • Lucy MacDonald stated that rather than thinking about this in terms of definitions of who had been harmed we should consider the intentions behind the homicide: the ultimate aim was for partners to assert power and control over women
  • MS added that the priority should be on deaths which occurred as a result of domestic abuse but given the relatively small numbers concerned there was an opportunity to think more broadly about violence against women and girls. Honour based killings were a concern too. It was important that women and children were not invisible. Statutory guidance could allow for other deaths if these were connected with domestic abuse. We should avoid a “hierarchy” of deaths
  • FW offered that the definitions used at the workshop could be revised in the light of these discussions. Messaging would be key in relation to how the taskforce planned to focus on particular types of death in relation to scope
  • Ann Fehilly (AF) agreed that there was a need to shine a light on those who might be regarded as invisible although she thought that in the first instance the scope should capture partner/ex-partner. The long lasting impact of domestic abuse on women and children was important to recognise although other elements could be added at a later stage
  • Giri Polubothu (GP) flagged up that there was a need to learn from the actions of the perpetrators too and not just focus on victims

FW asked members to contact her if there was anything in the report that required further clarification: she was keen to provide an accurate account of people’s views.   

AD concluded by thanking everyone for their thoughtful comments on scope and the way the model could be developed. AD added that it would be useful to consider the issues around power and control and the underlying intentions in order to learn lessons that help prevent deaths.

Developing Scotland’s domestic homicide review model

The group agreed take agenda item 6 next. 

Before outlining the next steps in developing the DHR model VC responded to MS’s earlier comment about the lack of inclusivity at the workshop. VC clarified that the workshop had been purely for taskforce members so that their views could be established before wider opinions were invited.  

VC outlined the proposed next steps in the development of the review model. These included:      

  • targeted engagement with a range of networks, those who work in and around the domestic homicide sector across Scotland, lived experience groups and seldom heard voices. Findings would be brought back to the taskforce to further inform collective discussions. Members were invited to provide suggestions on who to engage with. A small working group would be brought together to develop questions and approach in relation to the engagement work
  • development of web content. This would enable greater openness and transparency of taskforce work. The web page would be a repository for key documents relating to the taskforce including minutes and the terms of reference
  • publication of the package of evidence. The reports from the questionnaire and workshop, the international comparator research paper along with a paper JD and one of his researchers were developing to review DHR recommendations and their implementation, would be published towards the end of April

The following points were made:

  • AH and MS commented that accountability and meaningful outcomes were key factors when developing the DHR model. It was important to do this right
  • MS suggested that Scottish Women’s Aid could bring together a focus group of non-central belt victim support organisations in relation to the targeted engagement work. MS urged that there should be clarity about what needed to be achieved to ensure that a model would be ready to test by the end of the year
  • LM highlighted the Authentic Voice lived experience group and the Safer Sooner Network which could be approached to gain input and feedback
  • AH flagged up that the trustworthiness of the child protection learning review process had been raised at the DHR workshop and wondered what work had been done to consider this. Michael Luff (ML) outlined that he was drafting a paper which considers the range of review processes that operate in Scotland; their scope, when the processes would be triggered and which stakeholders are involved. There may be opportunities for a joint review process with child protection learning reviews and there had been discussions with relevant SG policy areas in this regard. The paper would be brought to the taskforce at the next meeting for their views. AH thought this would be helpful and added that we needed to be sure that such processes applied a gendered lens to ensure that the impact on women was fully captured
  • MS alluded to a review of serious case reviews in Scotland that had been previously undertaken: a key finding was that there was a lack of recognition of violent men in households. She felt that children should fall within the scope of the Scottish DHR model
  • drawing on his experience when chair of child death review arrangements in Northern Ireland  JD added that gender neutral review processes were not helpful.  He cautioned that where possible it was beneficial to avoid undertaking multiple review processes at the same time. It was critical to  reduce the demands placed on organisations and it was important to produce focused recommendations which had a greater chance of being implemented well

AD concluded by stating that the taskforce would further consider how children’s deaths, as a result of domestic abuse, should best be captured in order to reduce bureaucracy and achieve meaningful outcomes.

Project planning 

AD invited VC to speak to the draft governance chart that had been circulated which showed the potential workstreams and subgroups.  

VC explained that this was a starter for ten and thoughts were welcome. The governance arrangements followed an agile approach so that other work streams and detailed work could be started at a later stage, for example when considering panel workforce and training needs.  

Various task and finish groups had been suggested including one to consider whether there might be merit in undertaking joint review processes, for example in relation to child protection learning reviews.  

A reference group would be established: questions from the taskforce could be fielded more widely and this would be coordinated by the secretariat.  

Consideration was being given to whether there should be one core group with membership from key partners with a fluid structure to allow others to provide input at appropriate stages. Underpinning the draft subgroups was a testing group which it was envisaged would explore how made-up scenarios would be processed under a Scottish model.

Comments from members included:

  • MP highlighted that the draft chart showed that this work was the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice. MP advised that the Lord Advocate should be factored into this reporting structure as head of the systems for the prosecution of crime and investigation of deaths. This work would impinge on both of these functions for example in relation to perpetrators
  • VC added that in England and Wales perpetrators are asked if they wish to be involved in the DHR process so that people can understand the motivation for their actions. It was acknowledged that James Rowlands had knowledge in this area. It was agreed further detail on capturing the learning from perpetrators in England and Wales would be explored and fed back to the taskforce. Recognising the importance of this learning, a task and finish group to consider the role of perpetrators had been suggested
  • Deborah Demick (DD) explained that COPFS would have an interest in those accused of domestic homicides and appreciated that there was likely to be a range of views on the involvement of perpetrators to take into account
  • JD agreed that there were issues in using real cases. In Northern Ireland their DHR model was piloted for a year using a small number of cases and refined accordingly
  • MS was content for made-up scenarios to be used to build a model that could be tested. Her assumption had been that we would use either a small number of cases or cases from a geographical area as a pilot: this would enable the measurement of what worked and to learn whether the model had produced changes in the behaviour of key players
  • VC commented that whilst the intention was to work towards testing there were a number of considerations needed and a range of obstacles to overcome and that this would take time to work through
  • VC said further thought and engagement with Police Scotland would be necessary in relation to testing

AD thanked members for their helpful comments and contributions. She set out the next steps which were for the governance chart to be revised in light of the comments received and that further thought would be given to how the testing element of the model could be taken forward.

Any other business

The Chair drew attention to item 9 of the agenda and flagged up the research articles that may be of interest to members. There was no other business raised by members. AD thanked everyone for their time and participation.  

Agreed actions

1. VC to revise the ToR:

  • change the reference to GDPR to “data protection”
  • incorporate definitions to make it clear what we mean by “domestic homicides” 
  • to emphasise the request that members notify the secretariat regarding any  media interest around the work of the taskforce
  • purpose of the taskforce: to clarify that a DHR review was about the interaction between service providers rather than looking into the actions of the person who had died or the accused

2. FW to amend the workshop report:

  • the final paragraph on page 10 referred to “bystander death” and should be changed to “family homicide”

3. VC to update the timeline to reflect the revised steps in the development of the model.
4. VC to circulate plans for targeted engagement work and invite suggestions  from taskforce members.
5. ML to complete paper on other review processes for the next taskforce meeting.
6. VC to refine the governance structure for the next taskforce meeting:

  • this will recognise that connection between this work and the functions of the Lord Advocate.
  • include how the success of the model will be evaluated

7. VC to provide more information about how England and Wales involve perpetrators as part of their DHR models: James Rowlands to be consulted in this regard.     

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will most likely be towards the end of June/early July 2023, date to be confirmed.

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